Private Eyes are Watching You

Hall and Oates sing:

“Private Eyes
They’re watching you
They see your every move”



I’ve been wondering why it has taken me so long to write this blog post about privacy, until it dawned on me the irony of the post. It is the same reason it has taken me so long to start blogging. It’s because I’m a very private person. It is only due to the course requirements that I have started blogging. Privacy is important to me. Unlike a lot of friends, I hardly ever kept a diary or a journal throughout my life. Everything was just stored safely in my mind and memories. The ageing process has revealed that this is not the most reliable storage unit, and perhaps it would’ve been wise to record the anecdotes of my life.

Internet privacy is a kind of privacy and comes with its own characteristics. To truly maximize the full benefits of living in a connected world, I believe a different mindset to privacy needs to be adopted. Like most new things, you need to educate yourself about it so you can make informed choices and decisions and be comfortable with those choices. It’s important to be balanced. I’ve been a user of Facebook for many years now. It has been an important tool in my life to stay connected with family back home and with all my friends living around the world. Every one of my Facebook friends is someone I know personally. We’ve meet in person. A lot of my friends are current or past colleagues from international schools. Every year, when new teachers come to the school or when I move to a new school, my Friends increases. It’s a great way to share the social part of our international life – where we are holidaying, or an awesome night out at a new restaurant that others might want to try, etc.

However, I’m fully aware that many of my colleague-Facebook friends colleagues could potentially one day be in an administration role or be sitting across the table from me at the recruitment fair. I feel totally comfortable that my online Facebook life represents the well rounded, family orientated, travel loving teacher they know in real life. However, I often get a chill when friends post strong personal views on a topic, or photos that I wouldn’t personally share. I don’t have a problem with what they are doing, but the fact is that there is a connection between them and me. I have had a long standing rule about Facebook  –  Don’t accept friends request from students. When I first started using Facebook I developed this rule. I didn’t know why I made this rule. My gut just told me. It just didn’t feel right. As an elementary teacher, I don’t get many friend request from current students. But a couple of years later when they start using social media the requests come in. Do I have a burning desire to know how my students succeed in life? What careers they choose? When they get married and start their own families? YES, but do I want to see all that goes on in their life throughout their teenage years when they are experimenting with life choices – NO. So privacy is a trade off.

If you want to take advantage of the many features of using online resources, there will be some aspects of privacy that will need to be relaxed. Take Flipboard for example. It is a wonderful tool. It has a Privacy Policy. It clearly states what information it collects and how it is used. Flipboard, and other apps like it, are designed to collect information to enhance how it works. It is the customisation piece that we appreciate.

It’s important to teach kids about privacy and help them understand how the internet works. For example, it is useful to teach them why pop up ads appear and how to deal with it.  Another important teaching point is password protection.  However, how much restriction or protection you use can also be determined by country laws, school rules, and family values.  Everyone has their own comfort level.  Julia Agwin documents the measures she takes to protect and teach her children about internet safety, including the use of fake names, rules about the use of google and search engines, encryption and password protection.  Others will have a more measured approach, but the point is to inform yourself and make your own decisions.

To finish, take some time to listen to Juan Enriquez compare our online life with tattoos.  He calls them electronic tattoos and gives 5 lessons to consider when it comes to our electronic tattoos.[youtube][/youtube]

Highlighting Digital Footprints in an Elementary Setting

Just like your credit rating (or credit score) has the potential to open and close doors and have a serious impact on your life, so too does your digital footprint.  The ideas and discussions around digital footprints really captured my attention this week as I reflected on my own footprint both passive and active.  Then I started to move my thoughts to my students and the importance of teaching them about their digital footprint.  While we have regular conversations about our online safety and privacy, thinking about digital footprint is much broader than that.

footprintPhoto Credit: Katelyn Kenderdine via Compfightcc

As a cheerleader of my students, I’m always encouraging students to broaden their audience by using the internet to publish their work online. I want them to extend their audience beyond me and their immediate peers as I believe they have much to share.  In doing so I’ve been unknowingly increasing their digital footprint without having conversations about what it is and how we can manage it.

 So, I’m really thinking about what digital footprint means to elementary students.  They as yet do not have social media accounts (like Twitter or Facebook), but my students do have an active online life through blogging and commenting, collaborative projects, online games, subscriptions to accounts, researching, e-Portfolios, and creating digital media projects.  A lot of resources and discussions on digital footprint out there are really focusing on internet safety and privacy or are more geared towards teens.  But I want to look at this from a branding point of view and start conversations and develop some key understanding about the larger topic of digital footprints with my students, because it’s not all bad.  Creating the ‘right’ digital footprint can open doors, connect you with the right people, and get yourself heard.  I like the idea of starting conversations with our younger students and being proactive about their digital footprint. These will form the foundation of their thinking and provide a strong base on which to make digital decisions throughout their life.

One way to get the conversation started is to use Daniel Pink’s question ‘What is your sentence?


This will get them thinking about what image they have for themselves and is it portrayed or perceived by others. How great would it be for kids to be involved in periodic reflections about their digital image throughout their life and look to see how their values and persona changes. How great would it be for students to track their sentence over time?  What was my sentence when I was 9? 14? 19?

In elementary school, we devote significant time to knowing ourselves as learners.  If you work in an IB PYP school, you will hear students describe themselves with the learner profile and attributes.  How great to extend this and incorporate this in conversations about their digital footprint.  If a student has described them self as a knowledgeable, empathetic inquirer then they can ask if their digital presence reflects this.  Or the reverse; ask students to look at some of their online work and ask what learner profile or attributes are reflected in their work.

Here’s another good place to start the conversation:


I also think it is powerful to do some analysis of the footprint of others.  We can use the question “What does their online presence say about them?”  For example, if we googled Super Awesome Sylvia we’d come to her webpage and other sites.  Have kids explore her sites and content and pose the question ‘How about the digital footprint of Sylvia?  What does her online presence say about her?

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 9.36.22 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-28 at 9.35.00 PM


You’ll notice you have to search a bit to find her name.  Mostly she is known as Super Awesome Sylvia, but with a bit of looking around you can find her full name.  This is an interesting discussion in itself to have with students.

I’m very mindful of presenting a balanced view of digital footprint to students.  One which is relevant and appropriate to the age of my students (9 – 10 year olds).  We are educating not scaring.  So I’ve been searching for elementary appropriate material to use.  There’s not a ton but enough to get started.  I like the questions posed in this video:[youtube][/youtube]  I like the questions: Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind?  as these are important questions to ask not only in a digital context, but in our daily actions.

So rather than scare kids into an appropriate digital footprint, let’s empower students with skills, knowledge and attitudes through authentic and relevant discussions and experiences to building a positive digital footprint that reflects who they are.